A good day at Kettle

I turned twenty-three almost a week ago. It wasn’t a spectacle. I spent it at the restaurant, baking breads and plating a few dishes for a crowd of twenty people (which in my book, is already stressful). My birthday week was my last week interning at The Goose, and as I’m writing this there’s a smile on my face because I survived three challenging months at the restaurant I’ve always wanted to work at. I’m left with a sense of accomplishment, but also uncertainty. I have plans I want to happen, a few paths I want to take but everything isn’t set in stone. Of course I’d love to (finally) earn my keep but more than half of my body and brain is screaming for a vacation. (Am I too demanding, universe? Do I even deserve a vacation?)

I did have two golden Sundays in a row though. The first one I spent with my friends I’ve had since high school at this little restaurant called Kettle. One blog I read about it warned that I shouldn’t make a mistake of ordering one dish per person because the servings are generous to begin with.

It totally makes sense that the five of us ordered six dishes then. Two orders of buttermilk fried chicken, four pieces of boneless chicken thighs and six pieces of cornbread all in all. The chicken was everything good in the world about dark meat – juicy and flavorful.
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The blogs were right. It’s great chicken, partly because of the fact that people actually go the extra mile to serve uncomplicated, boneless chicken and partly because the same people know flavor. It’s not as if demolishing a bone-in chicken isn’t hard. I’ve had a solid reputation of “cleaning” the chicken well, leaving only the bone (sometimes even cleaning up after people’s chicken mess!). But not everyone is gifted with such profound talent.
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The rest of the dishes whizzed by: lamb adobo, a shrimp po’boy sandwich, angus corned beef hash (a great breakfast item that I might go back to Kettle for), and the surprise of the day, seared salmon on a bed of cold soba noodles and a mango relish on the side. I didn’t order it, they did. I had this look on my face that questioned their motives, but I caved in. It was served at an inconvenient time, when we were about to be filled to the brim with all the protein and fat that came before it. I think I said to them, “You ordered the salmon, you eat it”, or something to that effect. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy salmon. But I didn’t condition my mind for salmon, so I was less than enthusiastic.
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They began to devour it, taking the soba by the forkful then piercing the salmon to get shreds of juicy meat. From them came a nod of approval. “Masarap” (delicious). It was my turn to taste it, still on the fence.

Looking back I didn’t see why I was so worked up to begin with. It’s a dish that plays on the richness of the salmon with the freshness of the soba and the cleansing effect of the mango relish. The dark horse was delicious indeed.

We were too hungry that day, so I think ordering too much didn’t allow a lot of savouring to happen. But I was in the company of great people so I didn’t mind it too much.

There’s a part two y’all! Wait for it. Meanwhile, follow me on instagram, because it has more food than selfies. I’m on twitter too!

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It’s Christmas Day!

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By the time you read this, you’re probably just reeling from a deluge of holiday cheer. The Christmas season brings out all the fun and insanity that spills on all over whatever it is you’re preparing for the ones close to your heart. The days leading up to Christmas have been zany, to say the least. Sometimes I just wish I could take a backseat and just let other people do the work for me, because sleep is something I’d love to do right now.
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But no, this Christmas is pretty special for me. There’s a force that brings me to the kitchen to make sure I make the most of the moment. It’s Christmas and I’m home for the holidays and on vacation, because my life is different now. It’s more chaotic, vastly different and really fast-paced. Deciding to shift careers has exponentially changed me. Home is more special and meaningful, simply because I don’t get to see my family that often. I love being home.

While I was in the kitchen, slaving away for two days straight just to get a dinner with my friends just right, I’ve been listening to Christmas songs mom loves to play. That’s one of the things I miss so much, because as early as November her holiday collection fills the house with songs both familiar and obscure. I’ve heard a lot of voices (better than mine of course) sing about the good old days, childhood Christmases and simpler times. I find so much joy in that because it makes me warm and fuzzy, a refuge of sorts. Thinking of that makes me feel safe like a little kid.

Right now there’s a stew in the oven, iced tea brewing on the stove and another ham curing in the fridge. Yeah, “another” ham, because the first one didn’t make it to Christmas day because it was so good. So there’s going to be ham on January 1st.
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But days before the festivities have already begun, when I invited a few friends over for Christmas dinner. We had roast chicken, gratin, pureed squash, salad with homemade mayonnaise, seafood with garlic butter, and of course…ham. I blame them for finishing the ham. Oh, and Julia Child’s chocolate mousse.
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The bulk of them are either working as nurses or studying to become doctors. I can’t believe I could have gone either way if I stayed. It’s all good, at least it could still be a useful friendship. I kid.

It was a great night of food and shallow conversations. It’s comforting to know that despite paths diverging, nothing has changed.

So here’s my Christmas gift to you, because it’s not too late to make that ham for the dinner you’re planning for the New Year. You need five days to cure this, but the patience is worth it. Trust me. I will probably never buy commercial ham ever again.
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From my kitchen to yours, may your feasts be delicious and conversations hearty. As Amy Besa would put it, “cook with much love and passion, and serve with generosity”.
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Homemade Ham (serves around 10)

1.5 kg pigue/leg, deboned and skinless

Brine:

  • 1.5 liters water
  • 250 ml pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon + 1.5 teaspoon curing salt/prague powder
  • 1 cup iodised salt
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar (or use a combination of brown and muscovado)
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • a few cloves

Braising liquid

  • 3/4 cups brown/muscovado sugar
  • 4 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • a few cloves
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

In a really large bowl/container, mix all the components of the brine together. Add the pork and cover with cling wrap. Let it cure in the fridge for 5 days. When done, drain the brine and run the pork through running water to wash away the excess saltiness. In a pot, combine ingredients for the braising liquid, heat it to a boil and reduce to let it simmer. Add the ham and braise on low heat for four hours or more on the stove or in the oven. When ham is tender, remove from the pot and allow the liquid to reduce until thick. That will be your glaze. Adjust the taste with pineapple juice and sugar, because it may get a little salty because of the ham.

When ready to serve the ham, pre-heat the oven broiler to around 180 C. Sprinkle a little brown sugar and glaze on the fat of the ham. Place it in the oven and allow the sugar to caramelize, around three to five minutes. When done, remove from oven and slice the ham to serve.

And if I’m being totally transparent, I went the extra mile and finally, FINALLY, lived a childhood fantasy. Commercial hams are actually pretty good, but that thin layer of fat on top doesn’t seem like a lot for a very hungry child who loves pork fat. I bought a kilo of pork belly and cured and cooked it the same way. This was the finished product. A glorious slab of pork belly ham.
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I think I hear the choir of angels breaking out in song.

A Year of Food, Food and more Food!

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memory lane

I remember it pretty well – the day I decided to “give birth” to my food blog and name it “The Hungry Giant”. It was during research class, and instead of listening to whatever it is happens in research, I did wrote down possible names at the back of my notebook, as if I was trying to name a newborn baby.

I was a senior in college then, and my food blog dreams took a backseat when I reviewed for my board exams. But there was no stopping me when I did finally have the time to carve a niche for myself in the ever expanding world of food blogs. It was like I opened a window to let in a gust of cold fresh air. Since then, I never dared to close it ever again.

What you see before you right now is The Hungry Giant, 365 days and 131 posts later!

If you’ve put up with this blog since the very beginning, you might still remember the first recipe post I made (Garlic and Sardines Pasta). I just had it for lunch today, it’s still a winner.

Or how about the post that was good enough to make it to WordPress’ freshly pressed? Yeah, apparently the people at WordPress are pork lovers. And the whole world sent love to my grandmother as well. Back at you, world! (Chinese-style Crispy Pork Belly)

The day my dad and I made adobo together (with the chickens) was also a golden day. The first time I potted my herbs deserves recognition as well.

This blog also pushed me to try a lot of things in the kitchen: siopao, my first focaccia, cinnamon rolls, homemade garam masala (!), and let’s not forget, beef bourguignon version 1 and 2! 

Sometimes cringe-worthy, sometimes heartwarming – either way, my salad and  I were also on TV at one point!

Another proud moment? Well, when Ginny Roces De Guzman (the author of Bake Me A Cake) left a personal comment on my blog, thanking me for making her (really great) red velvet cupcakes. Julie Ruble of Willow Bird Baking, and her own red velvet cheesecake recipe (the first thing I ever baked, EVER!) is equally a winner.

And if you’ve noticed, I finally bought a domain! It’s now thehungrygiant.net although I think if you type in thehungrygiant.wordpress.com, it will still redirect you to the new one. A big whoop to the marvels of technology and whatnot!

Today, for THG’s anniversary, I was coincidentally invited by the good people from The Maya Kitchen to a cooking demo with Chef Hasset Go! One of the (if not the) youngest pastry chefs in the Philippines demonstrated a few of his recipes that will probably be part of his first book, out in August. His career story is one for the books – really inspiring!
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Chef Hasset’s 15-minute Energy Mug Cake

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Probably the highlight of the demo – Custard Spring Rolls. It had a great gentle crunch on the outside, and a perfectly sweet custard filling on the inside. I wouldn’t mind having it everyday.

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Banana Jubilee Crepe

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Low-Sugar Citrus Cupcake Creme Brulee. The secret: coconut sugar!

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A thing of beauty – Pandan White Chocolate Mango Cake

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Upper Left: Coconut – Calamansi Squares. Lower right: One Block Away Easy Pastel Tres Leches

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After the demo, and since I was in the vicinity already, I had a late lunch with two of my friends at Cibo. I decided to treat myself with a plate of lamb and bruschetta.
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Costolette D’ Agnello – Grilled Lamb Chop, Red Wine Mint Sauce, Parsley, Rice Pilaf (430php) – if only I can have lamb everyday

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Funghi Trifolati – Mushrooms, Fontina, Stewed Tomato (225php) – perfect

To cap off my night, together with my high school classmates working/residing in Manila, there was a get-together at Fish and Co. at Trinoma. There were no pictures because at that point we were all incredibly hungry, but let me just put it on record that Fish and Co.’s selections are delicious and the portions are generous. Must try: fish and chips, salmon, and the seafood curry.

There you have it, a day in the life of The Hungry Giant. Well, I wish that was true. No, I don’t get to eat out all the time but today just had to be something special. What you’re reading right now are ramblings of a guy with commitment issues, so the fact that I managed to hold on to this blog for a year is legendary. And just in case you haven’t been put up to speed, I recently left my hometown to pursue whatever’s waiting for me here in the big city of Manila. The fact that I could take this blog with me excites me because this is a new chapter for myself and for the blog: more perspectives, depth and definitely more food!

So, let me take this opportunity to NOT apologize to you reading this right now. I won’t apologize for making you hungry because I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But seriously though, thank you. Thank you for dedicating a few minutes of your life to ogle at my photos and read what I have to say. I try my best not to waste your time.

Thank you, thank you and tha—*burp*—nk you.

The Maya Kitchen is conducting a series of cooking demonstrations and lifestyle courses throughout July. For more information, contact them through email: contactus@themayakitchen.com   or call 8921185 / 892-5011 local 108. The Maya Kitchen Culinary Center is on the 8F Liberty Building, 835 A. Arnaiz Avenue (Pasay Road), Makati City. 

Cibo is located at the 2nd level Glorietta IV, Ayala Center, Makati City or  903.6327 or 729.2426. 

Ma

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I remember it pretty well, I was still in preschool and my mom and I were waiting for a ride to bring me to school. I kept on complaining that I was going to be late, and she looked at me and told me firmly, “don’t be such a pessimist”. Apparently she was the consummate optimist.

I consider myself really lucky to have a mother who is the very definition of the word ‘survivor’. It’s been almost three years, and she has never let cancer, chemotherapy and radiation take away her spirit.  In her 50 years, she has gone through so much that sometimes I think life’s being unkind. But no, looking at it from her perspective, in true form, she’ll simply face the challenge, rise above it and shrug it off after.
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Having a mother is probably one of the greatest imperfectly perfect gifts a person could have. She is, and will forever be my rock. She’s so optimistic that sometimes I think she’s…for lack of a better adjective, ‘crazy’.
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And what’s crazier is her penchant for classic love songs. She has her favorite radio station, and she tunes in every single day. Today, just before lunch, while the music was blaring, she took me and we waltzed around the kitchen. Well, she led while I tried to cover my eyes and stop myself from laughing at the sheer awkwardness of it, but, just for today I let her have her way. It is Mother’s Day after all. And today…lunch was something extra special.

Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly

My last post has only been a few days ago, but I’ve always been accustomed to my daily routine of visiting my blog, seeing my site stats, cleaning my google reader by visiting other food blogs, that a few days without a lot of blog activity from my end seems like forever. Not really forever, a hundred years perhaps.

But I do have good reason for being strangely inactive – I have a new job! Well, like my old one, it’s only part-time, two months tops, but right now, this new responsibility keeps me busy. The workload is pretty intense despite my short stint,  so the past few days have seen me adjust and push blogging to the backseat. This is really because food blogging takes a lot of time and energy – from editing photos, encoding/editing recipes to creating the story. It’s time and energy I need to exhaust elsewhere, because I desperately need money and food blogging doesn’t really pay the bills. And man does not live off his mom alone.

Since I don’t get to channel every ounce of energy into cooking, blogging, and eating (ehem), I just really hope I can still churn out great attempts at cooking. BUT I’M HERE and I’M BLOGGING!
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Over the weekend I did get to cook pure awesomeness for my grandma’s birthday.

Let me tell you about my grandma: she’s eccentric, loud, incredibly thrifty and, dare I say it, an amazing homemaker, cook and baker. She defied the odds by proving that you don’t have to be a victim of your past and circumstance. Born into poverty and without making it past the 6th grade, together with my grandfather, she managed to build a name for herself in the direct sales industry, send her children, including my mother, to school, and pretty much pave the way for a good, secure future for her children and their children. You can’t really do that without determination and intelligence. One time my mom hinted that if grandma would have just finished her education, she would be smarter than all her children put together.

Growing up with her, she would be quick to declare my laurels to anyone who would listen. Embarrassing, really.

According to her, it’s a fact that all her grandchildren are good singers and dancers. Well, I beg to digress but that’s not really the point. My mom always tells me that she’s proud of all her grandchildren.
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Because she’s Chinese and I’m extremely subtle, I made her a Chinese-style oven baked roast pork belly with the crackling. This was a gargantuan achievement for me because Grandma (and the whole family) enjoyed it and was amazed at how the skin was so crispy like chicharon. I got this from Christine’s Recipes, a food blog dedicated to Asian cuisine.
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This recipe reminds me of two things: 1. this tastes exactly like Lutong Macau’s roast pork belly and 2. the aroma really reminds of the food courts and restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, which makes sense because Chinese five-spice is an essential spice to have in Chinese and Macanese cuisine.

Watching the skin silently crackle and explode in the oven, from little tiny bubbles to full-blown crispy crackling, is an amazing sight. The trick here is to get the skin really dry.
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This is something best reserved for a weekend lunch with the family. In order for you to get this on the table by lunch time, start at around 9:00 AM because cooking times may vary depending on how large the pork belly is. Forget the lechon kawali, because this is so much better and less oily because it’s baked, albeit still fatty.  And trust me, this is magnificence on a plate that really deserves a place at the table.
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Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly/Siew Yuk (adapted from Christine’s Recipes; serves 6 – 8)

  • 2.5 kg pork belly
  • 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine, optional
  • to taste, rock salt
seasoning:
  • 6 – 7 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 4 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  1. To prepare the seasonings: Combine salt with sugar, pepper and five-spice powder well. Set aside.
  2. Use a knife to scrape away any impurities and hair. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Blanch in boiling water for about 20 minutes, until around 70% done, and the skin is softened. I used a large wok and filled 1/4 of it with water. I carefully placed the pork belly in, and to make sure that the meat is fully submerged in water, I just added a glass or two as needed and allowed it to boil. Photobucket
  4. Drain well and wipe dry with paper towels.
  5. Place the belly on a large platter or tray, meat side up and skin side down
  6. Use a knife to make a few small slits on the meat and up the sides but not on the skin, so the seasoning will be absorbed better.
  7. Evenly brush the meat with the rice wine (optional). Let it rest for around 20 – 30 minutes.
  8. Coat the meat BUT NOT THE SKIN with seasoning mixture, otherwise, the five-spice will darken the skin.Photobucket
  9. Flip the meat so the skin is now facing upwards.
  10. Using thick kitchen towels, evenly pat the skin dry. This is important so the skin can properly crisp up.Photobucket
  11. Using a small knife with a sharp tip OR fondue forks, gently poke the skin to make little holes all over the skin. Christine recommends not exerting too much force that the holes have gone through deep into the fat. But still, you can go crazy poking holes all over. During this time, preheat the oven to 200 C/395 F if you intend to cook it immediately.Photobucket
  12. Pat dry the skin a second time, making sure that there is no visible moisture left behind. Alternatively, you can also wrap the meat, but not the skin, with foil and leave it to dry inside the refrigerator overnight. I didn’t do this but the skin was still really crispy and the meat flavorful. Leaving it overnight however, most probably intensifies the flavor.
  13. When ready to cook, place the belly in a large roasting rack lined with aluminum foil to catch the drippings. Pour around ¼ cup water onto the foil so when the drippings will fall, it will not burn.
  14. Evenly season the rind with rock salt.Photobucket
  15. Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour to one hour and ten minutes.
  16. Turn the heat dial to ‘broil’ and roast for another 20 minutes, or until the rind has sufficiently and evenly crackled. Photobucket
  17. At this point you may notice that some parts of the skin appear to have charred too much. DO NOT PANIC. You can easily remove the charred bits by scraping it with a knife.Photobucket
  18. When done, remove from oven, chop it into your desired serving sizes – cubes or strips and serve warm with rice, with soy sauce and vinegar on the side. Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta

It wasn’t until I was about to step into the threshold of high school that I understood the meaning of clarity. Literal clarity.
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I didn’t have any epiphany that defined and changed the course of my life. What I did have was extremely poor vision. Looking back, I had no idea how I survived grade school with eyes that didn’t work properly. The earliest memory that I had where I began to experience problems was in first grade. Meaning, I went through my whole school-aged life with inconvenience. I was ashamed to tell anybody that there was something wrong because I thought it was inconceivable that a kid has to wear glasses. Glasses are for old people, I told myself.

But after years of struggle, when my parents, among other people, noticed my “squinting” (what I did to see clearer), I finally sought medical attention. It was there in the doctor’s clinic that my mom and I finally knew the real state of my vision. I was 12 years old, and my eyes had a grade of 600 – 700. My mom was in shock.
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Flash forward nine years later, and here I am, (a patron of contact lenses) fresh from my optometrist appointment. Apparently my eyesight isn’t getting any better, seeing as it’s now 850. But I learned to live with it. I actually enjoy watching people’s reactions when I tell them the grade of my shoddy eyesight. That I’ve found a way around my problem, found humor in it and moved on is something of an accomplishment.
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There’s also always a way to serve up a really simple and delicious dessert. After making panna cotta for a while now, I’ve realized that because of its simplicity, it has become my go-to dish to serve after a filling meal. Even more impressive is its simple presentation – I used little glass tea cups as the mold. Pretty darn fancy.

The name sounds fancy, but it’s just a mixture of egg and cream, held together by unflavored gelatin. There’s nothing complicated about that at all.
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Sure, it takes a while for the cream to set, but the end result is really worth it. Spoonful after spoonful of smooth, rich velvety custard hits the spot.

The aftermath of Valentines day left me with one last cup of panna cotta, which only differs from the first recipe I posted in that this one has chocolate in it. I really like the taste of dark chocolate, so this dish left me wanting more. But I know better, so a cup of moderate happiness works for me.
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Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta (serves 3 – 4)

  • 1 cup all-purpose cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons dark chocolate powder (I used Hershey’s)
  • 2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin powder
  • 4 tablespoons hot milk (I just zapped mine in the microwave for a minute and ten seconds)
  1. In a saucepan, combine all-purpose cream, milk, chocolate and white sugar. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved and there are little to no more clumps of chocolate.
  2. Increase heat slightly and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes.
  3. Whisk gelatin powder in hot milk until dissolved. (Some recipes say to let the gelatin ‘bloom’ in the liquid by leaving it for a few minutes. I didn’t do this but I might as well next time)
  4. Stir in gelatin mixture to cream mixture; blend well. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer/sieve and into a bowl to remove the large of clumps of chocolate and gelatin.
  5. Divide mixture into 3 ramekins/4 little tea cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.
  6. To serve, either invert molds onto serving plates or serve as is. Serve cold. Enjoy!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The title says it all. Not everyone is committed to a particular person right now (including me), but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it with friends and family. This whole Single Awareness Day idea is overrated.
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Anyway, I did prepare two dishes (one main and dessert) for a “Valentine’s lunch” I had. In the next few days I’ll post the recipes here. Not right now (as in today), because honestly, I’m drained. It was like prepping Christmas lunch all over again. Well, not really, but today left me pretty tired and sleepy.

Plus the whole food blogosphere is probably flooded with red velvet cake recipes (from pancakes to cheesecakes) right now, so I’m not joining the bandwagon. BUT I DO MAKE DARN GOOD RED VELVET (ask my friends!!!), just so you know. Pardon the immodesty.
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These red velvet cupcakes are from a local bakeshop called Aunty Nitz. I think I raved about them making pretty amazing egg pie (the filling of which tastes like a Macau egg tart) and their pastries are good as well. But sadly, these cupcakes didn’t deliver. The “hint” of chocolate wasn’t there, and it was pretty dry for my taste. The revel bars weren’t as chewy as I wanted it to be. I think they spent a few more minutes longer in the oven, as it had this crunchy crust that I didn’t like.

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Because she requested it, I also made cinnamon rolls for my mom’s officemates. I finally topped it with cream cheese frosting and I have to say, it tasted really good. For better presentation, serve these warm so the frosting melts and drips down the sides by popping it in the microwave for 40 seconds – one minute.

Well, considering how my day went I couldn’t really complain (more than the usual).   I’m hoping for a more recipe-productive week so with that being said I need all the energy I can get from sleep. If there’s something I love aside from food and cooking, it’s sleep. I love sleep (I know I’m being corny but the premise of the holiday permits random declarations of mushy corniness on so many levels, so there.)